What Christians can learn from Jews about handling disagreement

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After Trump got elected, and accusations against liberals turning “safe spaces” into echo chambers intensified, I made a personal rule for myself: for every book or article I read that affirms what I already believe, I will read something that doesn’t.

There’s a blogger I follow whose viewpoints I frequently disagree with – which is one of the reasons I read her work. I read all kinds of perspectives and viewpoints, so long as they are presented in a respectful manner, and hers are. But something she mentioned in a recent Instagram story got me thinking, and I want to expand those thoughts here.

She was addressing the issue of false teachers/prophets, and named a few whom she considers to be “false Christians.” They happen to be women whose books I own, and whose writing I greatly respect. So naturally, that was a little disappointing to hear, even though it didn’t surprise me at all.

I started thinking about the ways that Jews and Christians handle doctrinal disagreement. It’s a night-and-day contrast, honestly.

If there’s one statement to summarize the Jewish culture I grew up in, it’s this: where there are two Jews, you get three opinions. Yes, it’s a bit cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Judaism’s track record of agreeing to disagree is, well, something that Christians can greatly learn from.

You hear a lot about how Christians are persecuted, but I read once that more Christians have been persecuted by other Christians than by people outside the faith. Stunning, isn’t it?

What’s the difference between Christians and Jews when it comes to handling conflict? Why does one group have a better track record than the other?

Here’s my theory: it’s because Jews are a lot less concerned than Christians about what a “true” adherent looks like.

“True Jewishness” is not evaluated by whether or not you use electricity on Shabbat, keep kosher, or how long you wait to consume dairy after consuming meat. These issues matter, certainly, but are not the center of what Judaism is all about.

Ultimately, Jews are bound by the commandment of Tikkun Olam: to mend the world. There is no one central way this can be done, so long as you do it. Judaism is also marked by adherence to monotheism — belief in one God — as well as hope for the coming of the Messiah (for the first time, not for Round Two).

So the question of whether you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus is a bit more pertinent to Jewish doctrine, and therefore worthy of a debate about who “counts” as a Jew. See the difference?

Christians, in my experience, question each other’s salvation like it earns them extra brownie points in heaven. Support gay marriage? You’re not a real Christian. Support a woman’s right to choose? You’re not a real Christian. Vote Democrat? You’re a false prophet, and definitely not a real Christian.

Note how none of those issues are central to the meaning and purpose of Christianity. Those topics get mentioned by Jesus all of zero times.

And yet, even without explicitly saying so, I can only assume that those are the reasons this blogger considers these women to be “false” in their faith.

I have some concerns about this, and not simply because I share many of the same beliefs as those “false prophets.”

I think a big part of spiritual maturity is recognizing that not everyone’s faith is going to look entirely like yours. Not everyone is going to be in the same place as you are spiritually. I believe it’s possible for two believers to carefully study the same piece of Scripture, using the best educational sources available, and still come to different conclusions about what it means and how to apply it.

Where it gets complicated is when you have people claiming to love Jesus out of one side of their mouth, who then make statements that directly contradict His commands. They support policies that make life harder for poor people, or make excuses for certain lifestyle choices that involve adultery with porn stars. Doesn’t that make them “false teachers”? Doesn’t that make them “fake Christians”?

My instinct is to say yes – but my real answer is “I don’t know.” Because calling someone a “false Christian” suggests that I have a monopoly on the definition of a “true Christian,” and I certainly don’t. Using the term “fake Christian” implies that I, by contrast, am a “legit” one – and I have no idea what I’m doing 99% of the time!

Most importantly, determining whether someone is “real” or “false” means you have the ability to see into their hearts – something only God can do. And I attest that one can passionately love Jesus while being wrong about plenty of things.

Rather than use “fake” or “false Christian” as a means to separate “us and them,” I prefer to use “toxic Christian” instead. This indicates that I disagree with teachings I find harmful, but doesn’t discredit the faith behind them, which isn’t my job to do. Even if I don’t recognize the Jesus that some Christians worship, the best I can do is call out poisonous fruit. The judgment of the tree that fruit comes from is up to God.

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4 thoughts on “What Christians can learn from Jews about handling disagreement

  1. Pingback: It’s okay to change your mind | Sarahbeth Caplin

  2. Considering the idea of maturity it occurs to me that, however much Christianity has adopted the Old Testament (as did to large degree, Islam), it is still a very young faith compared with Judaism, which also arose out of a single cultural system and identity as a people rather than just a religion . Anciently, the question of “who is a Jew” was social and tribal, not doctrinal. I’m remembering this past Yom Kippur hearing for the first a translation of the Kol Nidre with its welcoming of the apostate and the lapsed into the congregation. Perhaps that is a piece of Jewish practice many Christians could emulate.

    Liked by 1 person

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